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Susan Criss

Chron overview of HD23

We go to Galveston for one of the few interesting Legislative races in the area.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

A former Democratic state legislator is trying to recapture the Texas House District 23 seat from the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction.

In one of the few competitive legislative contests, Democrat Lloyd Criss, who represented Galveston County in the Texas House from 1979 to 1991, is challenging first-term Republican Rep. Wayne Faircloth.

Faircloth, 63, won the seat in 2014 by defeating Criss’ daughter, former Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss.

Although the district was redrawn to favor the GOP by combining the predominantly Democratic areas of Galveston County with overwhelmingly Republican Chambers County, Republicans have struggled in the district. Faircloth fell short in his first attempt to win the district in 2012, losing to then-Rep. Craig Eiland, a Democrat.

Lloyd Criss

Lloyd Criss

The seat came open in 2014 after Eiland decided to retire from a post he had held for two decades.

The district includes Democratic-leaning Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas City, La Marque and the unincorporated community of San Leon before stretching across Galveston Bay to take in more conservative Chambers County.

[…]

[Sean Skipworth, who teaches government at the College of the Mainland,] said that Faircloth won during a mid-term election with low turnout, which usually favors Republicans. Incumbents are most vulnerable during their first reelection campaign, he said, and having presidential candidate Donald Trump at the top of the ticket could hurt Republicans farther down the ballot like Faircloth. The 75-year-old Criss also has high name recognition in Galveston County, which has 80 percent of the district’s population.

“If I was Faircloth, I would be a little nervous,” Skipworth said.

True, but Eiland was the only Democrat to receive a majority of the vote in HD23 in 2012. The district, like Galveston County itself, had been trending the wrong way for some time, and I suspect Eiland’s decision to retire rather than run in 2014 was predicated as much by an inking about which way the wind was blowing as anything else. That said, Susan Criss did about as well as one could expect in that environment, and it’s hardly outrageous to think that a guy like Faircloth, who represents a relatively balanced district, could get swept out in the Year of the Trump. It’s just that if that does happen, he’d immediately be the favorite to win it back in 2018, at least until we get a feel for where there will be a more permanent effect from this election. Bottom line, if the statewide polls are accurate, this seat could well be in play. Holding it after this year, that’s the challenge.

Endorsement watch: Three State House races

Possibly the only State Rep race endorsements we’ll get, depending on how much the Chron cares about the less-competitive races.

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

House District 23: Lloyd Criss

We endorse Lloyd Criss, a Democrat whom Texas Monthly rated as an outstanding freshman legislator back in 1979, the first of his six terms in office. Now the legislative expert wants to jump back into the game to fight for public education and a better funding mechanism for community colleges. Criss, 75, also says that he will hold the line on windstorm insurance. [Rep. Wayne] Faircloth did not meet for an endorsement interview.

House District 134: Sarah Davis

Davis, 40, told the editorial board that Texas is a deep-red state, and she insists on pushing an agenda that exists within the realm of the politically possible.

There’s a list of do-or-die issues that Houston needs to pass through the Legislature this upcoming session, such as pension reform and saving the Houston Independent School District from a broken funding system. Davis has the policy chops, seniority and close relationship with Speaker Joe Straus to push those changes through.

Our decision to endorse Davis is difficult. Democratic challenger, Ben Rose, has the makings of an excellent representative.

House District 144: Mary Ann Perez

This is an easy one. Mary Ann Perez, 54, lost her first reelection race two years ago after running a lackluster campaign against perennial candidate Gilbert Peña. Voters should put the former Houston Community College trustee back in her seat representing this heavily Hispanic district that stretches from Pasadena across the Houston Ship Channel to Baytown.

I expect Perez to win her seat back from the unserious and under-funded incumbent Rep. Gilbert Pena. HD144 was Democratic by about five points in 2012, and I expect it to be bluer this year. Rep. Davis will probably win, and Lloyd Criss (father of 2014 candidate Susan Criss) will probably lose, though the Trump effect makes both of those outcomes at least somewhat uncertain.

Side note: How close does Trump’s margin have to be for people to not call Texas some variation of “deep red” after this election? My guess is that this election will be seen as an outlier unless Trump manages to climb into double-digit territory, though I believe at least some doubt will creep into the narrative if Clinton comes within, say, six points. As such, I doubt the adjectives will change even in the event of a really close spread. I think it will require another atypical result in 2018 for people to stop defaulting to “[intensity modifier] red” as the state’s political description. What do you think?

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Final 2014 EV thoughts

Here’s the Chron story about how early voting went.

EarlyVoting

“Each (side) is emphasizing areas of comparative advantage, but the overall pattern seems to be unimpressive in terms of overall turnout,” said Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t see anything in the voting numbers as we have them so far to suggest a disruption in the normal pattern.”

Based on numbers kept by the secretary of state’s office, nearly 1.5 million people had voted early through Thursday in Texas’ 15 biggest counties, barely topping the same number at this point in 2010. The early voting turnout rate was down more than 7 percent.

“The numbers for early voting in this 2014 election cycle are comparable to what we saw in 2010,” said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the office, echoing not only Republicans but also independent experts who have been crunching the numbers on their own.

Polling stations in Harris County experienced a surge on Friday, the last day to cast a ballot in-person before Election Day on Nov. 4. Workers processed 51,628 voters – the highest daily number of the early-voting period.

But overall, early turnout in Harris County dropped 16 percent compared to the midterm count four years ago, from 444,648 to 375,247 this cycle.

In-person voters numbered 307,280 for the dozen days of early voting, compared to the final early number in 2010 – 392,536.

Still, more mail-in ballots were returned this cycle, 67,967 compared to 52,112 in 2010, which may suggest that efforts to get more people to vote using that method worked.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects a non-record-breaking turnout of about 300,000 voters on Tuesday. “Voters, they do their own thing,” he said, adding that state and national moods appear to influence turnouts.

The analysis of Friday’s batch of votes was that it was a good day for the Democrats, which brought the projected Dem share of the overall early vote in Harris County to 46.7%. That happens to be a very conducive number for some back-of-the-envelope math. With turnout so far at 375K, this puts Democrats down about 25K votes, 200K to 175K. That’s without taking into account the Greens and Libs, the extra mail ballots that will arrive by Tuesday, and undervotes, but it’s close enough for these purposes. If we accept Stan Stanart’s guess of 300K turnout for Tuesday, that means Dems need a win of 162,500 to 137,500 for a 50-50 county. That’s roughly a 54.2-45.8 spread for the Ds, or an improvement of 7.5 points over EV. In 2010, Dems improved by about 7 points from EV to E-Day (39% to 46%). So it’s doable, though obviously a bit of a stretch.

One thing to note from this is that if this projection is accurate, Dem turnout in Harris County will be up a smidge from 2010 – could be a slightly larger smidge if the projection underestimates the Dems, or it could be that there is no smidge if it’s an overestimate – while Republican turnout is down considerably. That shouldn’t be a big surprise – 2010 was fueled by a huge wave of previously Presidential-year-only Republican voters. I’ve said all along that while we ought to expect some of them to show up this year, it’s unlikely they all would. It stands to reason that a lack of these surge voters would have an effect. I suspect that this pattern will hold around the state, with perhaps some local variations here and there, like in Bexar County, but I have no data to verify this. What this means for final state totals remains to be seen. Let’s assume that the Rs have something like 2002 turnout, which is to say between 2.7 million and 2.8 million. If Dems can reach or edge past the Bill White line – say 2.1 or 2.2 million – that puts them at 43 or 44 percent, more or less. If that’s true for the whole ticket and not just one Bill White-like candidate, I’d count that as solid progress, if perhaps a bit short of my fonder hopes. It would also still be a double-digit loss, likely between 12 and 14 points. You can close a lot of the gap from 2010 and still have a lot more gap left to close. If however we’re looking at no more than an “up a smidge” situation statewide, so that Dems are still in the 1.8 million range, we’re looking at a 20-point loss. I’d be hard pressed to find anything positive about that regardless of what else might have happened.

None of this should be taken as gospel. I’m extrapolating from a limited data set. It would have been awesome to have seen some clear evidence of a Democratic surge, but I don’t. There is room to make up ground on Election Day, though, so keep at it till the final bell rings. Remember also that when BGTX first arrived, back when no Democrats were running for Governor, they were talking about a multi-year process, with a target date of 2020. Whatever does happen, we have to build on it. Move forward or get left behind.

Finally, a small point of disagreement with my friend PDiddie. If Susan Criss holds HD23, I see no way the Dems lose any seats in the Lege. The most likely outcomes range from -1 to +3 for the Dems, depending on HD23, those two Dallas districts, and HD43. There are Dem incumbents that would have to sweat it out in a year more like 2010, but there’s no evidence to suggest we have that kind of year.

Endorsement watch: State Reps and Sam Houston

The Chron made its State House endorsements in two parts. The highlight from Part One was a couple of key races.

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

District 23: Susan Criss

In one of the few competitive contests, Democrat Susan Criss and Republican Wayne Faircloth are battling to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Craig Eiland in a district that includes all of Galveston County and part of Chambers County. Criss, a former judge and prosecutor, is supported by trial lawyers, while Faircloth, an insurance agent, is backed by insurance companies, who are not much loved in a region that had problems with them following Hurricane Ike in 2008. Faircloth’s campaign comes right out of the Republican textbook – less regulation and secure the border. Criss, 53, wants to restore all education funding cut in 2011’s budget crunch so that public school students are not short-changed. She says big corporations must pay their fair share of taxes so average people don’t have to pay more. She wants the proposed “Ike Dike” to protect against future storms so people won’t lose their homes again. And she wants insurance companies to treat people fairly. We agree, so we endorse Susan Criss for District 23.

District 149: Hubert Vo

Another of the rare competitive races pits longtime state Rep. Hubert Vo against Republican Al Hoang, 38, in a battle between two Vietnamese immigrants who share a culture but not political philosophies. Vo, 58, is a moderate Democrat who concentrates on bread-and-butter issues while Hoang, a former Houston city councilman, tends to echo conservative bromides. Hoang says he reflects the true values of the Vietnamese community, which makes up about 20 percent of the district that stretches from Alief to the Energy Corridor on Interstate 10. The low-key Vo has a list of modest accomplishments, including creation of the International Management District and sponsoring legislation that helped bring private space company SpaceX to Texas. He is a strong supporter of public education and wants the state to accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Buried in Hoang’s rhetoric about abortion, the death penalty and other red meat issues are a few good ideas. But the Legislature has enough members who think pushing hot political buttons is good policy, so we endorse Hubert Vo for a sixth term.

Wise choices if you ask me, obviously. Susan Criss also picked up an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, which ought to help. The main thing that will help here is elevated turnout, to overcome the red lean of the district. My interview with Susan Criss is here in case you missed it. By the way, it was interesting to see the Chron venture outside Harris County, making recommendations in Galveston, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. I couldn’t swear to this, but my recollection is that this has not been their usual habit. Am I wrong about that?

Round Two was mostly about races featuring incumbents, all here in Harris and all but two getting the Chron’s nod. Those two races, plus one of the open seat races of interest:

District 132: Mike Schofield

Republican lawyer Mike Schofield, 50, handled legislative matters for Rick Perry for six sessions, which gives him an understanding of the lawmaking process that Democrat Luis Lopez does not have. Lopez, 25, has a compelling story: He came from Mexico as a child and has gone on to become a citizen, accountant and business owner. But Schofield can more immediately help the far west Houston district that includes Katy and the Cy-Fair area deal with the explosive growth expected there, so we endorse him.

District 135: No endorsement

As Republican incumbent Gary Elkins tells it, his biggest accomplishment during 20 years in the Legislature was the elimination of slower speed limits at night. His other unfortunate claim to fame was in 2011 when he disgraced the House by defending the payday lending business against state regulation in a massive conflict of interest – he himself owns payday lender businesses.

Elkins, 59, told us he will fight against overregulation, but couldn’t give any specifics. He couldn’t remember how many bills he filed last session or the details of a key constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. Yet, this hapless spouter of Republican clichés keeps getting re-elected in the northwest suburban district that includes Jersey Village and the Cy-Fair area. His opponent, Democrat Moiz Abbas, 60, is a good guy and smart, but we haven’t seen much of a campaign, so we’ll make no endorsement.

District 150: Amy Perez

Incumbent Debbie Riddle, 65, is seeking a seventh term in the House where she is a dependable conservative vote with a bad habit of sticking her foot in her mouth. She is best known for her absurd – and telling – rant that free education “comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.” She also flamed out on CNN claiming “terror babies” were being born in the U.S. In contrast, Democrat Amy Perez is a history teacher in a local district and dedicated to public education and fully knows its problems. Once, she won teacher of the year in a local district, then got laid off because funds for social studies ran out. Perez, 29, has no political experience, but is super smart and might teach the Legislature something about education. In the district that goes from the Woodlands south to FM 1960 and includes Spring, it’s time for a change. We endorse Amy Perez.

Endorsing opponents to The Riddler is old hat for the Chron by now. She is the worst, after all. Here’s a brief Q&A from a neighborhood paper with Perez and Riddle if you want to know more. Elkins is right up there – or down there, I suppose – with Riddle, and he’s in a district that has a chance of being competitive before the next round of redistricting. Not really sure what their hangup was with Moiz Abbas, but whatever. As for HD132, another district that is trending the right way, I’d say that assuming Mike Scofield will use that experience he has to actually help his district may be assuming facts not in evidence.

Moving elsewhere, Sam Houston gets two more endorsements. Here’s the DMN:

Serious legal issues dogging Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton should rule him out for consideration to be the next attorney general of Texas. It’s fortunate for voters that there’s a solid alternative in a Houston attorney whose name isn’t easy to forget.

Career litigator Sam Houston, a Democrat, is making his second run for office, having been on the ballot in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for the Supreme Court of Texas.

This newspaper recommended Houston for office then and recommends him now, on the strength of his legal experience and ideas for the office.

Paxton’s impaired candidacy stems from his written admission that he broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board even though he solicited paying clients for a financial services firm that paid him a 30 percent cut. It wasn’t a one-time slipup on Paxton’s part. The Securities Board’s civil complaint against him cites solicitations from 2004, 2005 and 2012.

As if to make the situation vanish, Paxton, 51, a veteran lawmaker from McKinney, declined to contest the disciplinary order and paid a $1,000 fine in May. But the matter lives on. A complaint has been filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has postponed any decision on taking the matter to a grand jury until after the election. That raises the possibility of felony charges against a sitting attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Voters should not invite that kind of embarrassment for Texas.

And here’s the Express News:

We strongly urge Texans to elect Democrat Sam Houston, a native of Colorado City who has practiced law in Houston for 26 years.

Houston faces Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton, a McKinney lawyer. The Express-News reported that Paxton “admitted in May to referring clients to a North Texas investment firm without registering with state authorities as required by law. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded Paxton and fined him $1,000, concluding that he violated state securities law in 2004, 2005 and 2012.”

The episode was a dominant theme for Paxton’s GOP primary runoff opponent and is being emphasized by Democrats this fall. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s office. Travis County prosecutors wisely will not consider the complaint prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Whether the issue results in a criminal investigation or not, the case raises disturbing ethical questions about Paxton. We believe voters should take this blemish on Paxton’s record seriously as they consider who should be the state’s top lawyer.

At this point we’re just waiting for the Chron to make it a clean sweep. They should have a pretty good idea of what the arguments are by now.

Saving SD10 and other benchmarks

The Observer looks at the race to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

It’s a steamy, hot summer morning in the Metroplex, and at the Dixie House, a Southern-style diner in east Ft. Worth where gravy flows like water, Libby Willis can’t find a moment to dig into her eggs and hash. She’s too excited about her campaign. Willis, the Democratic nominee in Senate District 10, is running in one of the state’s most important races for Democrats this cycle. It’s fallen to her—a first-time candidate with solid credentials—to defend Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat against Konni Burton, a fiery tea-party organizer who’d likely be one of the chamber’s most conservative senators.

Willis acknowledges that her odds are long in this Republican-leaning district. But the path to victory, she says, is simple enough. “We just got to get our people out to vote. That’s all there is to it,” Willis says. “This is not a sleepy year.”

Democrats faced a tough task holding onto the district even before Davis decided to try her hand at the governor’s race. Davis squeaked by in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and Democratic turnout was comparatively high. (Though Obama lost Tarrant County both times, Davis held on anyway.) But the last round of redistricting forced an early election in SD 10—the district now elects its senator in midterm years, when Democrats tend to falter in Texas. To hold the seat for Democrats, Willis will need luck, skillful positioning, a troubled opponent and an impressive field operation. That last part, Democrats hope, is where Battleground Texas comes in.

Battleground, the group started by former Obama campaign staffers with the aim of making Texas politically competitive, is spending most of its time and resources in the rocky terrain of the governor’s race these days. But down the ballot, the organization is trying to put muscle behind a dozen legislative candidates, running in marginal districts that should be fertile ground for Democrats. Dubbed the Blue Star Project, the effort aims to focus the group’s technical expertise and organizing ability on legislative races, with the help of a “coordinated field program and a full arsenal of data, digital, and communications expertise.”

What that means, in short, is that the group hopes to take the special sauce decanted from the Obama campaign’s field operation and drizzle it on legislative races here, where it might make more of a difference than it will against Greg Abbott, who has a 3-to-1 cash advantage over Davis. The most important of the races is SD 10. In the process, Battleground hopes to stake a claim to a continued future in the state.

Democrats everywhere hope this cycle will be more like a presidential year than, say, 2010, and if it is, Battleground could be part of the reason why. Willis says the organization is part of a longer push. “This is a multi-year effort. This is not one and done,” she says. “This is not, ‘Hey, we’re finished at midnight on November 4th.’ They are committed to continuing the work, which is fantastic. And really important.”

I basically agree with this, though as I’ve said before, SD10 in a Presidential year is no cakewalk, either. I feel pretty confident saying that Wendy Davis considered the odds of her holding onto SD10 versus her odds of being elected Governor when she was making her decision. At this point it seems clear to me that the Dems’ odds of holding SD10 are better with Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket than they would be with Wendy Davis running for re-election and essentially nobody at the top of the ticket. I mean seriously, who would our nominee for Governor be right now if Wendy Davis hadn’t taken the plunge? Ray Madrigal? Kinky Friedman? Gene Kelly? It’s pretty brutal when you think about it, especially when you add in the fact that Leticia Van de Putte would also not be running for Lite Gov if Wendy hadn’t led the way. I’ve heard some people complain that by raising people’s hopes in what is likely to be a losing cause, Davis and her candidacy could cause some major blowback and infighting after the election. I don’t doubt the possibility, but it’s hard for me to see how giving up and rolling over as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick waltz to power was the better alternative.

The big picture also gets discussed.

Battleground Texas debuted in February 2013 to enormous fanfare. Democrats had just come off a spectacularly successful presidential election year: The blue portion of the electoral map had swelled in a way that made some gains seem semi-permanent. Formerly red states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada had flipped, for reasons that included both shifting ideological coalitions and demographic changes. Other states, like Georgia, seemed to be in reach. Then there was Texas, the beating, blood-red heart of GOP electoral viability.

If the national Republican Party is a vampire, Battleground is intended to be the wooden stake. Founded by Jeremy Bird, the national field director for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and armed with the newest technology, techniques and tactics, the organization says it would do what the Texas Democratic Party couldn’t—or wouldn’t. Even if the group’s fresh-faced organizers don’t make a clean kill, softening Texas would mean national Republicans would have to spend time and money here. They’d win for losing. In a column for The New York Times, political reporter Thomas Edsall wrote a few months after Battleground’s launch that the group had “put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party.”

If that fear was ever real, you can be sure that it’s dissipated a bit. Battleground has had a challenging first year and a half and its future is uncertain. Wendy Davis’ filibuster gave the Democrats what seemed like a viable shot at the governor’s mansion, so Battleground, which started as a long-term organizing project, wedded the group’s efforts to hers. Battleground handles the work in the field, and Davis’ campaign handles strategy and messaging. The two groups even share a bank account, called, promisingly, the Texas Victory Committee.

If Davis does well, Battleground has a chance to move up the clock on the state’s purple-fication. But if she doesn’t, Battleground stands to suffer along with her. The story of the 2014 election isn’t done yet, but Davis’ odds of victory seem slim. Even if she doesn’t win, Abbott’s margin over Davis matters quite a bit: If she outperforms expectations, Battleground—and the Democratic coalition more generally—will have something to show to donors and supporters come 2015. It’ll serve as a proof of concept.

If she does badly—if she ends up in Bill White territory, as seems possible—the whole thing will be a wash and Dems, having spent a hell of a lot of time and money for little in return, will be left asking themselves very tough questions about how best to organize themselves next cycle. A good deal of the enthusiasm that’s built up in the last year will fall apart. Battleground insists it’s here for the long term—but to make that a reality, the group needs to keep its raison d’être, and its appeal to big-money donors, intact. It’s an expensive operation to run. And some close to the state Democratic Party—which, mind you, doesn’t have a great track record of success itself—would like to see the party take on Battleground’s local organizing functions itself.

[…]

That’s one reason the Blue Star Project is important to the group—if Battleground can pick off a number of legislative races this year, it gives them a plausible claim to a future in Texas. None of the twelve races Battleground is assisting in are really “reach” districts, but Texas Democrats have had trouble pinning them down. If a couple of them flip blue in November, Jeremy Bird’s young group will argue it’s brought home enough trophies to justify another hunting trip.

The 2016 election cycle will likely see Clinton at the top of the ticket driving high turnout among the Democratic base, which means it could be a good year for Dems in legislative races here. In 2008, Democrats in Texas rode the coattails of Barack Obama’s popularity to win 74 of the state’s 150 House seats. It’s not realistic to hope for that again—not least because the state had another round of gerrymandering in between then and now—but it could be a more comfortable climate, and Battleground’s experience this cycle in down-ballot races could prove useful.

I’ve discussed the question of what a consolation prize might look like in the event the losing streak by Dems in statewide races continues. With the caveat that “expectations” and whether or not one has beaten them tend to be set by the chattering classes after the election and not before it when we might have argued about them, let me suggest a couple of bars for BGTX and Wendy Davis to clear.

The Bill White Line: This one is explicitly mentioned in the Observer story. White got 42.29% with 2,106,395 total votes, and I think it’s fair to say that these are minimum totals for any reasonable “success” story to be spun. More to the point, recall that White ran a campaign that was largely geared towards peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was actually quite successful at that, as I have noted before, but in a world where the base Democratic vote remained at between 1.7 and 1.8 million for a third consecutive off-year election, it didn’t matter. For Battleground Texas to claim success in its goal of boosting turnout, we need to see all statewide Democrats collect at least 2 million votes. I thought that was a worthwhile and achievable goal even before Davis’ famous filibuster put her on the map. It’s surely on the low end of what we should aim for now.

The John Sharp Line: John Sharp scored 46.03% of the vote when he ran for Lite Gov in 2002. No Democrat has topped 46% statewide since. Sharp did this with slightly fewer votes than White – 2,082,281 to be exact – thanks in part to lower Republican turnout that year and a higher third-party vote total. I’d estimate the Davis campaign would need to reach the 2.3 million vote mark to get to 46%, which if she does achieve would also mean that the margin was less than ten percent. I don’t think there’s any question that crossing these lines would be the mark of clear and substantial progress, and by all rights should change the narrative from “Dems haven’t won since the 90s” to “Dems came closer than they have in any election since the 90s”.

Hold the line in the Lege: The story is about SD10, and it also mentions HD23. Both of those seats, as well as CD23, have the distinction of being held by Democrats but having been carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (There are no Republican-held seats in the Lege or in Congress that were carried by President Obama in 2012.) Holding those seats, especially with SD10 and HD23 being open, would be a very nice thing to do regardless of what happens anywhere else.

Gain ground in the Lege: The next level up involves picking up a seat or two (or more) in the Lege, where as the story notes there are a few that could be attained with a focused turnout effort. The story covers most of the basics and I’ve blogged about the Blue Star Project before, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say that any pickups, all of which would also be in districts that had been carried by Mitt Romney, would be a feather in the cap and another sign of real progress.

Win Harris County. Bill White carried Harris County in 2010, but that came with an asterisk next to it. No other Dem came close as the Republicans swept the county races again, as they had every year since 1998, a year that I trust sounds familiar. Dems increased turnout significantly in Harris County in 2010, but lost ground overall compared to 2006 due to the GOP tidal wave that year. We can’t do anything about that, but there’s plenty of room to grow the Democratic vote more, and in the absence of another GOP tsunami, winning Harris County and the substantial prizes that would come with it – the first Democratic DA in who knows how long, ousting the likes of Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, maintaining the Democratic majority on the HCDE – would be sweet.

Win Fort Bend, advance elsewhere. Fort Bend County has trended the same was as Harris has, but a few points behind. Winning Harris County in a non-Presidential year would be a shot across the bow, while winning Fort Bend would be a brick with a note tied to it crashing through the window. Beyond that, pick your favorite red county and a reasonable goal. Thirty-five percent in Collin and Denton? Forty percent in Williamson? Forty-five percent in Tarrant? Go to the SOS webpage, use the Railroad Commission race as the benchmark, and go from there.

You get the idea. I don’t think you need a fancy Poli Sci degree to realize that these events are not independent of each other. It’s hard to imagine falling short of the Bill White Line while achieving the other goals, and it’s hard to imagine clearing the John Sharp Line without achieving at least some of them. Still, there will be some variation based on local conditions and candidate quality, and one hopes that the promised exit polls will give us some more dimensions to measure. I definitely agree with author Christopher Hooks that one way or another there will be a long discussion about the level of success of the tactics used in this campaign. I hope this has provided a starting point for discussing what those levels might look like.

Interview with Susan Criss

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

My second legislative candidate interview is with one of my favorite people in politics, Susan Criss, who is running to succeed Rep. Craig Eiland in HD23. Criss is a longtime District Court judge in Galveston County, who survived the 2010 election by being good enough to not have drawn an opponent. She’s spent a lifetime in politics – her father, Lloyd Criss, represented HD23 years ago, and is now the Chair of the Galveston County Democratic Party – and while serving as a judge she won accolades for her work to divert mentally ill defendants from prison. She’s also a longtime presence on social media who created the first court web site in Galveston County, and was the executive producer on an award-winning documentary called “The Color of Justice”. Here’s the interview:

I’ll start the interviews with statewide candidates next week. In the meantime, consider this: In last year’s Legislature, a grand total of 32 of the 150 members were women, or a bit more than 20 percent. I haven’t tried to figure out what the range of likely possibility will be for next year, but I think it’s safe to say that it can only be a good thing for the Legislature and the state of Texas if we take every opportunity to elect smart, capable, and highly qualified women like Susan Criss.

It’s about more than the Davis campaign

Gromer Jeffers highlighted something recently that I think hasn’t gotten enough attention.

In her race for Texas governor, Wendy Davis’ sisters have her back.

I’m not talking about her biological family. Davis is getting support from a group of female House candidates who are piggybacking on her policy proposals and helping her take aim at Republicans, including Greg Abbott, the attorney general and GOP nominee for governor.

Last week, for instance, Davis proposed the elimination of the statute of limitations in rape crimes. Quickly afterward, four House candidates, all women, issued news releases backing the state senator’s proposal.

They included House District 108 candidate Leigh Bailey, House District 105 candidate Susan Motley, House District 23 candidate Susan Criss in Galveston and House District 43 hopeful Kim Gonzalez in Kingsville.

There’s political strategy to the “we are family” approach.

Democrats across the state are running as a team in hopes of encouraging straight-ticket votes that will not only help Davis, but down-ballot candidates.

In Dallas County, for instance, County Judge Clay Jenkins and District Attorney Craig Watkins hope to benefit from a base voter turnout.

They will work with local campaigns, Davis and groups like Battleground Texas, a Democratic group that aims to make the state competitive long-term.

In previous years, Democratic House candidates have had to largely fend for themselves, since many of them are stuck in districts drawn to benefit Republican candidates.

A countywide mobilizing helps them, but it has fallen short for many, as the Democratic base is outside their individual districts.

But this year, with Battleground Texas helping, the candidates are using issues seen as important to women — equal pay, early childhood education, and health care, for instance — to go after more voters.

If Davis manages to woo crossover voters, so will the House candidates. That’s the theory.

“What unites all these campaigns, from Wendy on down the ballot, is that they’re fighting for Texas families instead of insiders,” Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, said.

That approach, which I agree is something we haven’t really seen before despite the obvious benefit of it, is actually broader than what Jeffers documents. BOR wrote about BGTX’s Blue Star Project, from which all this comes. Here’s a list of candidates that BGTX has highlighted on their site, some with videos, so far:

SD 10 – Libby Willis

HD 23 – Susan Criss
Video Post

HD 43 – Kim Gonzalez
Video Post

HD 105 – Susan Motley
Video Post

HD 107 – Carol Donovan

HD 108 – Leigh Bailey

HD 113 – Milton Whitley

HD 117 – Phil Cortez

HD 144 – Mary Ann Perez

That list is not final – Battleground says they are seeking opportunities to get involved where they think they can make a difference. You can’t be everywhere at once, and resources are always finite, but it’s great to see this kind of strategic thinking. In places like SD10 and HD23, two Republican-leaning districts that Democrats currently hold, it could be the difference between winning and losing. In marginally Republican districts like HD43 and the four Dallas locations, it could be the difference between gaining seats and keeping the status quo. That’s all about increasing turnout, which is something everyone wants and which should be very conducive to joint efforts like this. Again, we could certainly find that BGTX did a stellar job boosting Democratic base turnout but still fell short at the state level. Where a gap exists in these districts, however, it’s much smaller. Keep an eye on this, and if you live in or near one of those districts, you now have twice as many reasons to get involved.

The small number of competitive legislative races in November

The Trib discusses the lack of legislative action in November.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

In the House, nine Republican and two Democratic races are still undecided. An early list of competitive November races — this is in a House with 150 seats — comes in under a dozen. Put another way, there are about as many competitive races in the party runoffs as in the November general election.

In the Senate, there are only two runoffs — both in the Republican primaries. And in November, only the SD-10 seat — now held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — looks from this distance like a genuinely competitive two-party contest.

The 36-member congressional ballot is just as imbalanced, with three runoffs (all Republican) next month and only one obviously competitive November race, in the 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine is the incumbent. Democrats are starting to talk hopefully about the chances for Wesley Craig Reed, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. That district, CD-27, was drawn to favor Republicans, however, and part of Reed’s challenge will be to overcome that advantage in a midterm election year with an unpopular Democratic president in office.

That’s the problem for challengers with these maps: Barring the unexpected — scandal, death, resignations that come too late for candidates to be replaced — most races will be over by the end of next month, if they aren’t over already.

Those are most of the caveats, along with the usual one: It’s early, and things will change. All that said, here is an early list of House races to watch in November, mostly because they are in the handful of swing districts that remain on the map.

  • HD-105: Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving lost her primary to former Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie in March. He’ll face Libertarian W. Carl Spiller and the winner of a Democratic runoff in a district where both major parties think a win is possible.
  • HD-107: Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, is being challenged by Democrat Carol Donovan.
  • HD-113: Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, is being challenged by Democrat Milton Whitley.
  • HD-43: Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democrat Kim Gonzalez.
  • HD-23: Democratic Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston isn’t seeking another term, leaving this open seat to either Republican Wayne Faircloth or Democrat Susan Criss.
  • HD-117: Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio will face Republican Rick Galindo.
  • HD-144: Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Gilbert Peña.
  • HD-41: Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, will face Elijah Israel Casas in this marginally Democratic district.
  • HD-149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Al Hoang in a district that Vo has managed to defend — narrowly — several times.

Keeping score? That list includes four seats currently held by Republicans that the Democrats would like to take away, and five Democratic seats that the Republicans hope to grab. At the extremes, that would mean the Texas House would convene with 91 to 100 Republicans and 50 to 59 Democrats in January 2015 — about where it is today.

I’ll stipulate that once the runoffs are settled, so too are the vast majority of legislative races. There’s always the possibility of a surprise, as the story notes, but barring anything unforeseen, all the action this year will be statewide and in the counties. That’s just not what the pattern has been over the past decade, but it’s a testament to the power of the 2011 redistricting. I suspect it’s one part access to more accurate data and more powerful computers, and one part more rapid demographic change in various districts last decade, but right now these maps have the feel of permanence, barring court-mandated changes, until 2021.

I’ve got another post in the works to illustrate that in greater detail, but for now let’s look a little closer at the list Ross Ramsey compiled. I agree with the four competitive Republican seats, and while I agree that these are the five most competitive Democratic seats that are being contested – for some reason, the GOP did not field a candidate in HD78 – I don’t think they’re all in the same class. HD23, which along with SD10 and CD23 are the only seats won by one party while being carried by the other party’s Presidential candidate, is clearly a possible R pickup. I’d rate it as Tossup, possibly Tossup/Lean R. It’s tough for the Dems that Rep. Craig Eiland chose to retire, but District Court Judge Susan Criss is as strong a candidate to succeed him as one could want. As for the others, I’d rate HD41 as the least likely of all nine to flip. Rep. Guerra won with over 61% of the vote in 2012. While some statewide Republicans won a majority in 2010 in HD41, one doesn’t usually identify an incumbent that collected over 61% of the vote in his last election as potentially vulnerable. I’d rate this seat as Likely D. Rep. Cortez in HD117 might be the most endangered Dem incumbent – he won with a bit more than 52% in 2012 – but his opponent had almost no cash on hand going into the primary, not that he was a moneybags himself. Let’s call this one Lean D – for comparison, I’d rate all four Republican seats as Lean R. Rep. Perez won with over 54% in 2012 – her district performed better for Ds in 2012 than the 2008 numbers would have suggested – and her opponent this year was the lesser-regarded loser of the 2012 R primary. I’ve not heard a peep about that race. I guess a bad enough year for Dems overall could imperil her, but I’m calling this one Likely D.

Finally, there’s HD149. On paper, Rep. Vo versus former CM Hoang is an intriguing matchup. The history in HD149 is Rep. Vo outperforming the Democratic baseline – in both 2006 and 2010, he was the only Dem other than Bill White in 2010 to win the district, and 2006 was redder than 2010 – aided in part by a strong Vietnamese vote. Having Hoang on the ballot at least potentially complicates that, especially since his Council victory in 2009 was fueled in part by a strong performance in Asian boxes. However, as I’ve shown before, lots more people have had the opportunity to vote for Rep. Vo than for Hoang, the district is more Democratic now than before – Rep. Vo’s only close re-election was in 2010 with 52%; he had over 56% in 2012 – and I’d fear Hoang more if he hadn’t just lost a re-election bid to an out-of-nowhere Vietnamese candidate whose victory was abetted in large part by Hoang’s stormy relationship with the Vietnamese community. This is one to watch, but barring any future indicators of trouble for Rep. Vo, I’m calling this one Likely D. What are your thoughts?

Susan Criss to file in HD23

Some excellent news from the inbox, via Carl Whitmarsh:

Susan Criss

For fifteen years I was honored to wear a black robe for the people of Galveston County. Four times I raised my hand and swore, so help me God, to faithfully execute the duties of the office of the 212th District Court of Galveston County, Texas and to the best of my ability protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas.

While I dearly love this job it is time for me to serve my community in a different capacity. In order to do that I am required by law to resign from this position before December 9, 2013. I sent a letter to Governor Perry resigning from this bench effective at 5 pm December 6, 2013. I ask that he appoint someone to fill this term.

On Sunday December 8, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. I will file for the office of State Representative of District 23 at the Texas Democratic Party office in Austin.

For a decade and a half I administered justice to the best of my ability. I tried to be fair to everyone who appeared before my bench. When I was a young prosecutor Judge Raymond Magee told me that the man who drives to the courthouse in a pickup truck deserves the same justice as the man who drove there in a Cadillac. I never forgot his words and aspired to live up to them every day.

I was addressed as “Your Honor”. That was an appropriate term but not because I was special. It truly was my greatest honor to be able to serve the people of Galveston County in our justice system. I loved this job, the people I worked with, the lawyers who appeared before me and the people I served.

One sign on the door of my courtroom reads “This court belongs to the people.” The other has a quote by Sam Houston, “Do right and risk the consequences.” Both signs reflect my beliefs about justice and about government service.

The pink granite building in Austin also belongs to the people, the ones who drive Cadillacs, the ones who drive pickup trucks and the ones who cannot drive at all.

The people of District 23 deserve strong effective representation in the Texas House. I am excited about working hard to ensure that District 23’s voices are heard in Austin

She also posted that on her Facebook wall, along with that badass picture embedded above. I had wondered if anyone had filed in HD23, and I’m delighted to see a positive answer to that. Retaining this seat that’s being vacated by Rep. Craig Eiland will not be easy, but Judge Criss is as strong a candidate as one could want to make the effort. The Chron has picked up the story, and PDiddie was on it before that.

In other filing news, we have a couple more contested primaries in Harris County. An Azuwuike Okorafor, who may be this attorney, has filed to challenge Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Allen easily turned back a campaign by Council Member Wanda Adams in 2012, so barring anything unexpected I don’t think this time will be any different. Also, a Lily Leal, who may be this person, filed to run for HCDE Trustee At Large Position 7, which is the seat formerly held by Jim Henley for which 2012 SBOE candidate Traci Jensen filed earlier in the period.

Democrats now also have a candidate for County Judge. Unfortunately, that candidate is Ahmad Hassan, the former Republican (he ran against Sheila Jackson Lee in 2006) who ran for County Judge in 2008 and 2010, losing in each primary to David Mincberg and Gordon Quan, respectively. He’s a perfectly nice person but has no real qualifications for this job or understanding of what it is – give a listen to the interview I did with him in 2010 to see what I mean. I don’t think there’s much appetite among Dems to run against incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett, and I can’t blame them – Emmett is generally well-liked, very well-funded, and was easily the top Republican votegetter both times he was on the ballot. I think 2014 is more likely to be a good year in Harris County than not, and while I expect Ed Emmett to run ahead of the GOP pack, it’s certainly possible he could lose. If he lost to a Mincberg or a Quan that would be one thing. Losing to Hassan would not be a good thing, and would invite comparisons to Jim Foster. This is one primary race that I would very much prefer to be a contested race.

Elsewhere, Trail Blazers confirms that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers has indeed filed to run for the Senate. I will reiterate what I said yesterday that it’s everyone’s job to make sure she doesn’t make it to a runoff, let alone wins the nomination. Ignorance cannot be an excuse, y’all. BOR reports that the Democrats “will indeed be fielding several statewide judicial candidates, who are in the process of gathering the signatures required to run”. I have heard that El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody was running again, and I had heard there were at least some other Supreme Court candidates out there, but that’s all I know. No clue whether we’ll have any CCA candidates. Finally, Tom Pauken has ended his quest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on the very reasonable grounds that he had no chance of winning. I can’t claim to have been a fan, but it was better to have more critics of Greg Abbott out there, so to that extent I’m sorry to see him go. Texpatriate has more.

Eiland will not seek re-election

This is a tough break for the Democrats.

Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, will not seek re-election, he announced in a tearful personal privilege speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

Eiland, who has served in the Legislature for two decades, said it has been hard being away from his wife and children, but that he would deeply miss being a member of the Texas House.

Eiland said he even liked serving in a session with an exceedingly large number of freshmen legislators, though he joked that “some of them are crazy.”

The Galveston legislator and attorney was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. He won a sometimes tough campaign for re-election last year in which his work on windstorm insurance became an issue along with his residence in Austin. Eiland has a $3 million home in Austin. An early ad from his Republican opponent attacked Eiland as someone who got wealthy “as a trial lawyer suing Texas businesses” and for living in a city well outside the district.

Rep. Eiland is a veteran member with a lot of expertise and experience, and he won in a district that has been trending away from the Democrats for a long time. I identified him as potentially vulnerable way back in 2011, and indeed HD23 was Republican overall – Eiland was the only member of the House to win in a district that was carried by the Presidential candidate of the opposing party. While it’s not clear to me that his district would have been any less hospitable in a non-Presidential year, it is certain that he’d have had another tough race ahead of him. With the seat being open, it automatically moves it from being Lean Dem, on the strength of Eiland’s experience, abilities, and campaign bank account, to at best a tossup for the Dems, if there’s a decent candidate waiting in the wings. The good news is that according to QR, there are several good potential candidates – former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, District Judge Susan Criss, and former Galveston County Commissioner Pat Doyle. I’ve already heard a rumor that Criss plans to run. Like I said, this will be a tough race, but having a good candidate at least gives us a fighting chance.

Rep. Eiland joins Rep. Mark Strama in calling it quits; there’s already a hot primary for the open HD50. One thing Eiland’s retirement has in common with Strama’s is that it will surely mean fewer Anglo Dems in the Lege in 2015. Regardless, I wish both outgoing Reps all the best with whatever comes next for them. Thank you for your service, gentlemen.

Federal court bench moving out of Galveston

Disgraced former judge Sam Kent may be the last federal judge to serve in Galveston, at least for the foreseeable future.

The state’s oldest federal bench, which remains vacant after the resignation of U.S. District Court Judge Samuel B. Kent, will be transferred from Galveston to McAllen, officials said Wednesday.

The move apparently was the result of a weekend meeting that ended Monday among federal judges presiding in the Southern District of Texas, which includes Galveston County.

The result means cases filed in the Galveston division from this county and three others will continue to be heard by Houston judges.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat, said he learned of the decision late Monday and confirmed it Tuesday in a conversation with a judge from the district.

[…]

The number of criminal case in the past 10 years along the U.S. border with Mexico has been overwhelming, Green said about the reason for the move.

“In our area, half of the cases are civil and half are criminal,” Green said. “But in southern Texas, 80 percent of the cases are criminal — drug smuggling and illegal immigration cases. It’s a hefty caseload.”

Green, who represents Houston and Harris County, is among six Texas congressmen who intend to submit to the White House a list of candidates to succeed Kent. A timetable of when President Barack Obama would appoint a nominee to fill the vacancy hasn’t been announced.

[…]

Based on an agreement among the six congressmen, and because the president’s appointment would sit in McAllen, the three representatives from the Rio Grand Valley will decide on a name or list of names to submit to the White House. The remaining three congressmen from the northern part of the district are expected to support the list, Green said.

This story was sent to me by Judge Susan Criss, who had been Rep. Green’s choice to replace Kent. Seems to me a logical choice to serve on the bench in McAllen is Judge Linda Yanez, who defeated Criss for the Democratic nomination for a State Supreme Court seat last year. Criss told me she has encouraged Judge Yanez to apply. We’ll see what happens.

The next US Attorney in Houston

Now that we finally have an Attorney General, we also have a lot of people who would like to work for him.

The U.S. attorney wannabes who confirmed for the Houston Chronicle that they are interested are Harris County District Judge Marc Carter, Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Philip Hilder, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cedric Joubert, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Ricky Raven, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Eric Reed, lawyer Larry Veselka and lawyer and ex-prosecutor Susan Strawn.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, is collecting applications. His office confirmed that Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark White III and Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos have expressed interest in the job.

Some others whose names are being discussed have pulled themselves off or seem equivocal.

Brownsville lawyer Benigno “Trey” Martinez said he is out of the race since he decided not to uproot his family. Ex-Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford said he was encouraged to seek the position but probably won’t.

The U.S. Southern District of Texas, headquartered in Houston, covers 43 counties and runs down the coast from Galveston to Brownsville and as far west as Laredo. The Houston-based U.S. attorney is one of four top federal prosecutors in Texas.

Those four prosecutors are Tim Johnson of the Southern District, who was an interim appointment, Johnny Sutton of the West District in San Antonio, James T. Jacks of the North District in the Metroplex, and Rebecca Gregory of the East District in Beaumont. I don’t know what the normal procedure is here for US Attorneys when there’s a new President, especially one of a different party, but I would assume at least one more of these offices will open up. Not to be too crassly political about it, but given the thinness of the Democrats’ bench for statewide office, these would be plum positions for someone with higher ambitions.

Most of those seeking the job are Democrats, though Magidson just finished filling a Republican term as Harris County district attorney. White’s father was the former Democratic Texas governor. Hilder and Veselka were active in President Barack Obama’s campaign.

And Judge Marc Carter is a Republican as well. I’m happy for him that he’s interested in the job, but with all due respect, he can get in line behind the Democratic hopefuls.